April 2012 - Posts
After a two year search , the Cincinnati symphony , America's fifth oldest orchestra , has chosen French conductor Louis Langree ,51 , as its next music director . Langree will take over the position from Estonian conductor Paavo Jarvi , son of the renowned conductor Neeme Jarvi . Langree has served for several years as music director of Lincoln Center's world-famous Mostly Mozart festival and is also principal conductor of the Camerata Salzburg in Mozart's birthplace .
Langree has also appeared successfully at the Metroplitan opera , most recently conducting the revival of the once famous opera Hamlet by 19th century French composer Ambroise Thomas , as well as with leading orchestras and opera companies internationally . The members of the Cincinnati symphony are from all reports highly enthusiastic about the choice and are looking forward to working with the French maestro, who will be the orchestra's first music director from that nation .
The Cincinnati symphony was founded well over a century ago , and its music directors have included such eminent conductors as Leopold Stokowslki , Fritz Reiner ,Max Rudolf , and Thomas Schippers , and is considered to be a world-class ensemble by many critics and conductors .
Thus far, Langree is best known to the general public for Mozart and French music , so it remains to be seen how he will handle a wide variety of repertoire , ranging from the 18th century to the present day . But his appointment certainly looks very promising .
With all the orchestras and opera comapnies in America and elsewhere either folding or teetering dangerously on the edge of non-existence , many critics and commentators seem to be wondering if they are actually to blame for their predicament . Is it true that these supposedly "elitist" performing arts organizations are no longer "relevant" and have failed to make concertgoing and attending the opera worthwhile ?
So these so-called experts use loaded words in describing these troubled groups as "dinosaurs" and "museums" , as if there were anything wrong with museums in the first place . Yes, dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years , but for all their difficulties, our opera companies and orchestras are far from extinct . The vast majority of them are alive and kicking , and they still enrich the lives of countless people all over the world , not only rich white people . And even though they are extinct, why are so many people fascinated by dinosaurs ? They should also be interested in classical music and don't know what they are missing .
No, the notion that these institutions have failed to make it worthwhile to attend their performances mst be rejected firmly . The music of Beethoven,Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Berlioz, Schubert and the other great composers of the past can never become dated . It has stood the test of time , and there will always be new generations of people to discover the greatness of what they have bequeathed to the world . There are an enormous number of talented , dedicated and hard-working musicians , conductors, solo performers, members of orchestras and singers who have devoted their lives to bringing the music of the past to life as well as giving new works a chance to be heard .
These musicians provide an extremely high quality product , and the orchestras and opera companies of which they are members deserve not only to survive but to flourish . There are a variety of factors involved in the woes of our orchestras and opera companies, but lack of excellence is not one of them . If more people could only come to discover what a treasure these organizations are , they would not sneer at them . Difficult economic times , the considerable expenses of running these organizations and lack of support , at oeast in America , have caused quite a few of them to founder and in some cases go under . But don' blame them or accuse them of deserving to vanish from the earth !
The prestigious Southwest German radio orchestra of Baden Baden is in danger of being liquidated by the German government because of financial difficulties . It's hard to believe that this could be the fate of a major German orchestra, but this oculd very well happen . Even Europe, where generous government support for orchestras and dopera companies has long been taken for granted , is no longer immune the the financial difficulties endemic to those of America .
The government run radio stations of major German and other European countries have long supported world-class orchestras with eminent maestros as their chief conductors , and they have made numerous recordings as well as touring internationally . Something like this would unfortunately be impossible in America . The closest we have ever had to it was the legendary NBC symphony ,founded for the great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini , which played concerts and radio broadcasts in at a studio in Rockefeller center now used for NBC's Saturday Night Live broadcasts from 1937 to 1954 , and was supported by the RCA corporation .
But world class radio orchestras function in Berlin,Munich, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and elsewhere in Germany . The Southwest German radio orchestra is resident at the famous resort and Spa town of Baden Baden, Swabia , and has had renowned conductors such as Hans Rosbaud and Michael Gielen as its principal conductors , as well as numerous distinguished guest ocnductors . The orchestra is renowned for its performances of difficult contemporary music by a wide variety of German and European composers, and even America's most venerable composer , the centenarian Eliott Carter .
Government support allows these radio orchestras to devote ample rehearsal time to difficult works by contemporary composers , a luxiury whcih American orchestras do not have . Unlike those of America, they are not bound by rigid union rules requiring overtime for extra rehearsal and for those rehearsals to last a specific amount of time . Composers appreciate this greatly .
A number of distinguished ocnductors and instrumentalists have signed a petition asking for this orchestra to be saved , and you can add your signature by going to artsjournal.com and checking Norman Lebrecht's blog Slipped Disc . An English translation is available .
Don't sit by idly while a great orchestra is destroyed !
The great french composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) wrote many quirky masterpieces based on his singular fusion of devout Catholic faith and mysticism , birdsong , and Buddhist and Hindu philosophy , but wrote only one opera , which had its world premiere at the Paris opera in 1983 . And what an opera ! The opera is called St. Francois D'Assise ( Saint francis of Assisi ) , a natiural subject for a devout catholic composer .
But it is no ordinary opera . It is a vast an dauntingly complex work calling for a huge orchestra and chorus which lasst about four hours and is extremely static froma dramatic viewpoint , and the role of St. Francis, sung by a bass baritone, is one of the longest and most diffiuclt in opera . Naturally , the opera has had relatively few productions in the last 30 years, nor is it ever likely to become as popular as such staples of the operatic repertoire as La Boheme,Carmen and Aida .
Recently, the Metropolitan opera has released plans for upcoming repertoire in the next few seasons, and lo and behold, the Messiaen opera will receive a production in 2017 . This is extraordinary news , and the outstanding African-American bass Eric Owen, whose protrayal of the evil Nibelung dwarf Alberich in the Met's new Ring cycle has received considerable critical acclaim , will take on the formidable demands of the role of St. Francis.
The San Francisco opera did the Americna premiere of St. Francis several years ago, and there have been a number of concert performances ,some of only extended excerpts, , but this will be the New York stage premiere . The Belgian opera manager Gerard Mortier ,who resigned as general manager of the New York City opera a few years ago before taking over because of lack of siufficient funds for his ambitious plans for the company was plaaning to do the opera in New York, but his vision was thwarted . But the Met, which has far greater resources an dmoney, should be able to do justice to the huge work .
One problem however, may be the many conservative members of the Met''s audience, who are extremely reluctant to hear challenging rare operas , and who may find the work baffling and leave early , as they sometimes do with th emore esoteric works of the operatic repertoire . Let''s hope the opera will not play to sparse audiences ! The production will certainly not be cheap .
ther ehave been two CD recordings of St. Francis, a live one from the Paris premiere ocnducted by Seiji Ozawa, a longtime champion of Messiaen's music but now ailing , and one on Deitsche grammophon based on a production at the Salzburg fesitval conducted by another notable Messiaen specialist, Japanese-American conductor Kent Nagano . These may not be easy to find, but are well worth ooking for, and there is a DVD of a production from the Netherlands opera in Amsterdam . If you don't mind a musicla challenge, give these a try ! The opera may grow on you, as it did with me from the two CD recordings. I haven't seen the DVD , but hope to soon .